In addition to the usual reviews and comments you would find on a horror movie blog, this is also a document of the wonderfully vast horror movie section of the video store I worked at in my youth.

Friday, November 30, 2018

The House of Lords.

This week it's another VHS from my recent Horror-Rama haul in Jim Wynorski's 1988 sci-fi flick Not Of This Earth.

An alien (Arthur Roberts) from a dying planet comes to Earth in search of blood to rejuvenate his race.

When the opening credits first came on, I was like, “wow this is amazing, if the rest of the movie is half this good--” then my eyebrow raised when I saw something very familiar. This being a Roger Corman production, I realized that this opening was a greatest hits reel of some of his most memorable pictures including Humanoids From The Deep and Galaxy of Terror. It's a bit of a cheat, but it also made for one hell of an opening.

It took me a while to clock into this movie because as it felt like two distinct sensibilities mixing together into some kind of primordial soup. First, you had the strange genre picture that would've been camp if it wasn't played so straight. It was like John Waters – though I've only seen like two of his movies so it's more like what I think his movies are like – with tons of random nudity. Then put over top of that was a weird noir where people – especially the exchanges between Nadine (Traci Lords) and her co-worker Jeremy (Lenny Juliano) - talk like they're from the fifties. Imagine if a bunch of topless dancers showed up to the station in the second act of Howard Hawks' The Thing.

Traci Lords as Nadine in Not Of This Earth.

Looking up the movie afterwards – this is definitely one I'd love to hear the commentary track – and seeing it was a remake of Corman's own picture from 1957, it all made sense. He & Wynorski updated the movie with an eighties aesthetic, visual effects and gratuitous T&A, but didn't change the cadence of the dialogue. Now I get it. It's actually kind of a marvel when you take into account that – in regular Corman fashion – the movie was shot in under twelve days. It was also helped by Chuck Cirino's score, even if the best bits sounded like riffs off his earlier score from Chopping Mall.

Arthur Roberts as Mr. Johnson in Not Of This Earth.

Not Of This Earth is also known for being Lords' first non-porn role and the last picture she played in her birthday suit. She's actually pretty good in this, but it is hard to tell sometimes with all the abstract dialogue. Lords isn't the only familiar face either, as Kelli Maroney from Chopping Mall shows up, as does Roger Lodge, the guy from that Blind Date show. I'd also love to know if there is a story why Dick Miller wasn't the vacuum salesman. Michael DeLano did a fine job, but I couldn't help but wonder if he wasn't a last minute replacement.

So, though Not Of This Earth may not be the caliber of Wynorski's more appreciated works, it's still an interesting anomaly. By the third act I was invested enough to want to know how this crazy tale was going to finish up.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Short of the Week #45: Greener Grass

It's time to weird things up here with Paul Briganti's 2015 short Greener Grass.

This short cracks me up every time.

Friday, November 23, 2018

The Adventures of Jamie & Teddy

With the seventh edition of the Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Fest now underway, it seems to appropriate to spool up something from the Great White North. This week’s VHS is Lew Lehman’s 1981 flick The Pit.

When awkward twelve-year-old Jamie (Sammy Snyders) discovers several “Trolologs” in a hole in the forest, he goes to increasingly grisly lengths to keep them fed.

The Pit is such a wonderfully strange movie. Having discovered it during my video store jockey days, it’s really the gift that keeps on giving in that not only do you have a weirdo kid – or “funny person” as one of his tormentors calls him – who talks to his teddy bear, but also carnivorous monsters in the woods. It’s also a bit unusual in that it’s a Canadian production, mostly shot in Wisconsin (the interior pit sequences were done in Toronto according to Imdb) because it’s often the other way around.

Snyders puts in a terrific off-kilter performance as Jamie and considering how bizarre the script must have read, I’m always impressed by how much he committed to it. It would’ve been so easy to go over the top, but he plays everything so matter-of-fact. Sadly, The Pit was one of the last things he did before leaving the biz.

Sammy Snyders as Jamie in The Pit

I find Jamie such an interesting subject because he’s clearly a bit off, but not what I would consider evil in the sense we usually see in killer kid flicks. Sure, he’s feeding people to his “pets”, but when you take into account a good majority of the meat were either bullies or just mean folk, it’s sometimes hard not to root for him. He’s weird as fuck to be sure and his obsession with naked ladies probably would’ve escalated, but he ain’t straight up Children of the Corn is what I’m saying.

Also, his babysitter Sandy (Jeannie Elias) may have left her guide book at home. What was she was thinking when she, after being expressly told that Jamie is susceptible to crushes, decides to a) wash Jamie’s back in the tub and b) backpedal when she says she has a boyfriend – “Well, he isn't really what you'd call a boyfriend, he's just a friend.” WHAT THE EVER LOVING FUCK ARE YOU DOING?

Mind you, this ill-advised behaviour does fall in line with the bonkers tone of the piece. Laughing out loud as Jamie pushes an old lady in a wheelchair through a field to her doom is inevitable, but watching him blackmail his neighbour into undressing at her front window, not so much. I beg to differ with the Sheriff who exclaimed he moved to this town because nothing ever happens.

If there was a critique of The Pit, it would be the pacing, as things come in fits and starts, most noticeably when the opening sequence is replayed (in its entirety I might add) later in the picture. It could also be accused of going on a little too long. After the movie reaches its logical conclusion the narrative completely abandons Jamie for like fifteen minutes, while it turns into Humanoids From The Deep. I’m not going to complain too much, as it was clearly an attempt to add more gore and nudity, but having a bunch of hicks hunt down the Trolologs only served to shine a empathetic light on them. I also want to take this opportunity to give it up for those hairy dudes because they ruled.

I love this movie, but every time I watch it I am always left wondering… What happened to Teddy? A throwaway scene suggested that Teddy was actually sentient so I’ve always wondered what happened to him after Jamie left to play with his new friend, Alicia.

Sequel anyone?

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Short of the Week #44: The 7 Sevens

This week's short is a terrific little tale I saw my first year as a festival screener. I've always found the phenomena of number stations to be extremely interesting and I love Lane & Ruckus Skye's take on it. Below is their 2015 short, The 7 Sevens.

The 7 Sevens is a perfect example of all you need to make a great film is a solid idea and a pair of really talented actors. The Skye's are currently finishing up post on the debut feature, The Reckoning

Friday, November 16, 2018

Moon Jockeys.

Freshly acquired from this year’s Horror-Rama, this week’s VHS is Roland Emmerich’s 1990 sci-fi flick Moon 44.

Set in 2038, IA agent Felix Stone (Michael Paré) is sent undercover to a remote mining colony with a bunch of convicts to investigate some stolen shuttles filled with precious ore.

After watching Emmerich’s 1985 effort Making Contact this summer I was kind of hoping for something equally bonkers, but somewhat disappointingly Moon 44 was a fairly standard representation of the nineties sci-fi that populated video store shelves around that time. I mean, the ambition was there as the first act saw Emmerich reach for the lofty world building heights of Blade Runner and Aliens, but it gets bogged down in its plot. I found it often took itself too seriously, as well.

As with most direct-to-video sci-fi (it did play theatrically overseas) it had a pretty solid cast in Paré, along with Brian Thompson, Stephen Geoffreys (basically playing a drug dealing Evil Ed) and Malcolm McDowell, who despite having gone grey by then still looked young as fuck. Also, was it just me or was Leon Rippy the only one sweating profusely throughout this movie?

Fundamentally, I thought this movie needed more dog-fighting. By utilizing sweet practical effects, they definitely made up the best parts of the movie. Moon 44 built to a climax where convicts were being trained to fight incoming robot pirates and when they arrived, only Paré and Thompson fought them – and not even together! I know I know, budgets, but imagine if at the end of The Magnificent Seven, five of them decided to stay at the saloon.

Michael Paré as Felix Stone in Moon 44. 

Perhaps the most distressing and ill-advised part of the movie was when it's implied that one of the navigators was raped in the shower by a pilot. Considering that when the pilots are actually in the air, their lives are in the hands of their navigator – in a tandem even more unclear than the one in Pacific Rim – I really don’t think the assaulter really thought things through. Things don’t end up well for either of them.

As far as sci-fi space mining movies go, I have to say – and I can’t believe I am – Gary S. Tunnicliffe’s Within The Rock is the more entertaining joint. Moon 44 was certainly watchable fare, but it’s just a hair before Emmerich started positioning himself as the filmmaker we all know and love/hate.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Short of the Week #43: Black Eyes

This week I'm posting one of my favourite shorts from 2015 in Rick Spears' Black Eyes.

If you know anything about me at all, you know that this kind of stuff is my bag. Sadly, Spears has been quiet (at least according to Imdb) but at least two members of the team, Michelle Lombardi & Drew Bolduc - whom I had the pleasure of meeting during one of my trips to Bloomington - are in post production on their newest project, Assassinaut.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Friday, November 9, 2018

She Came From Within.

Carrying over the Montreal locale, this week’s VHS is David Cronenberg’s 1977 effort, Rabid.

After undergoing experimental surgery, Rose (Marilyn Chambers) acquires a taste for human blood for which her victims subsequently become violent zombies.

Rabid is one of those films that so much time has passed from when I would have first seen it that I can’t remember if I actually watched it, or just manufactured an idea of it from seeing the coverbox so much as a kid. Considering I recalled almost nothing, I wager the latter is true. Though Rabid is one of Cronenberg’s least talked about works, I think it’s still a solid piece of work.

Obviously, the main talking point was the casting of porn star Marilyn Chambers (apparently a suggestion by Ivan Reitman after the studio balked at their first choice in Texan Sissy Spacek) that I think was as bold as it was perfect. I felt she had real screen presence in this film, switching back and forth between innocent and predatory with ease. Her comfort level with the nudity was to be expected I suppose, but I also got the sense she really trusted her director. I mean, can you imagine her reading the script, “soooo I have a parasite that comes out my armpit???” 

Marilyn Chambers as Rose in Rabid.

After watching Strange Shadows last week, I was surprised by how different Montreal looked even though both these movies were filmed around the same time. Granted, a lot of Rabid was shot at night, but I definitely felt there was more grittiness to this one. As with most of Cronenberg joints, this had so many recognizable locations. If there’s ever a Montreal edition of Horror Express, I hope that at least the mall and apartment complex are on the list.

Also while watching Rabid, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to George A. Romero’s The Crazies released a few years earlier. Not that there was any intentional aping going on, but they did share similarities in both pathology and escalation. It’s also clear the pair shared the nihilistic streak that was so common during that decade, it was almost a badge of honour.

I mentioned Rabid wasn’t as popular as some of the Baron of Body Horror's other efforts, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have its moments. It played to me as an extension of Shivers, moving beyond the confined space of Starliner Island and sweeping into the entire city of Montreal where truck drivers, pervy moviegoers and mall Santas were all caught in the crossfire. Not to fear though, as Cronenberg’s version of squeegee kids were there to clean up the mess.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Short of the Week #42: Latched

Last week, Canadian filmmaker Justin Harding posted his award winning short filmography on his website. I have posted his 2017 opus Latched below, but afterwards you should definitely go check out his earlier work.

I stand by my past declaration that Harding is currently the top hombre working in this medium. He has fantastic ideas, the resources and skills to execute them and his many years working in the television industry have given him to chops to churn out his projects at a break-neck pace. I have no doubts Harding will soon become a major player in the horror industry.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Horror-Rama Haul!

Hey all. Last weekend was Horror-Rama and it was a blast, as always. In addition to sharing air with genre celebrities such as Linnea Quigley, Lynn Lowry and Dee Wallace, I also came away with a pretty sweet haul.

And since it was staring me in the face all weekend, I finally broke and picked up Matthew Therrien gorgeous Suspiria print.

I'm afraid I don't have the faculties to go into depth as much as I usually would, but I can assure you that if you can make it out next year, you will not be disappointed.

Friday, November 2, 2018

I Thought Canadians Were Supposed To Be Friendly!

This week’s VHS was my recently acquired tape of Alberto De Martino’s 1976 Euro-crime joint Strange Shadows in an Empty Room.

A grizzled Ottawa police captain (Stuart Whitman) travels to Montreal to investigate the death of his sister.

I first saw this film at Trash Palace many years ago, but likely due to the PBR-induced haze remembered almost none of it. Strange Shadows is a fascinating anomaly as it was shot in Montreal by an Italian (known for spaghetti westerns & sword of sandal pictures) aping the gritty American cop efforts of this era. If you then throw in some giallo elements you have yourself quite a stew.

Right of the bat I noticed the fantastic cast assembled for this movie. In addition to Whitman, you also have Martin Landau, Tisa Farrow and Italian production staple John Saxon, among others. While the cover may have you believe you're in for a Wait Until Dark-style thriller, the blind girl only briefly factors into the story. It’s actually more of an ensemble murder mystery that in true Italian genre fashion features a revolving door of quirky characters that come fast and furious throughout the run time.

Stuart Whitman (left), John Saxon & Martin Landau in Strange Shadows...

In some markets this movie was known as Blazing Magnum, but more apt might have been Excessive Force based on main character Tony Siatta’s policing methods. He was Dirty Harry on crack, as literally every interaction with a suspect concluded with him pulling his badge after an obligatory chase or fisticuffs. Perhaps the most problematic bit was when he brawled a group of transvestites during which I’m pretty sure Siatta went all Sleepaway Camp and shoved a curling iron where the sun don’t shine.

It was this behaviour that led to the car chase scene that this movie is best known for. It’s pretty awesome and definitely De Martino’s attempt to one-up Bill Friedkin's The French Connection. They even did a three-car stunt that’s so cool they showed it FOUR times!

Hilariously though, the suspect Siatti was chasing had barely any useful information and was basically one of a bunch of guys he shook down looking for a stolen necklace.

I’m not going to lie though, the fact this was shot in Canada was of endless amusement to me. For some reason, half of Montreal looked like it was under construction and the Toronto police crime re-enactment video was a real gut-buster. And I have to must admit the climax at the hospital was pretty satisfying.

Shoot first...

So yeah, get past the fact that Siatta was a pretty terrible person and this was some solid Euro-crime featuring a lot of familiar faces.